The Haven City Incident
by Wendy Nikel
Tripping through the pitch-black, it took the small band of survivors hours to reach their destination. When they arrived, Kora put out her arm to stop Lex from running into her. He grunted as her hand jabbed into his belly. Tyrone punched him and raised an index finger to his lips.
Maybe Kora should have apologized, but she didn’t, not tonight. Tonight they’d search the factory and maybe eat some decent protein, even if it was in the form of coagulated meat which, before The Incident, she would have never touched.
“There it is,” she whispered, pointing up at the factory.
She wished that the blue and yellow trademark weren’t quite so apparent in the moonlight. It was a forty-foot-long declaration to any other survivors that there might be food within, and Kora preferred not to have to fight anyone for it. Tyrone was big and could hold his own, but aside from him, their group was better suited to duking it out in a video game than real life. Uri tapped her shoulder. His face was pale, and it looked as though he might start crying.
“What?” Kora hissed. He pointed, and her gaze followed his all the way across the river. There were Lights.
The Lights were just pinpricks at this distance, but Kora had seen them often enough to know that the steady, pulsing orbs weren’t simply candles or flashlights flickering in the dark. They only made that mistake once, and they’d lost over half their group. There had been so many lost, especially in those first days. It was no wonder that Haven City was almost empty now.
Not too long ago, it had been a booming city, and Kora had been a normal girl, just trying to make it through trigonometry. Then came The Incident, when a blinding light filled the skies over Haven City for a full 4.92 seconds. As it faded, the smaller Lights had appeared, hovering around the sidewalks and subways, disappearing anyone who came too close.
By the time Kora had run home, hopped in her truck, and headed to the gas station, she’d missed the mad dash for gasoline. The station’s tanks had already been pumped dry, as had the next one’s, and the next one’s. She had driven as far as she could, but her truck sputtered to a stop before she could even reach the bridge to Riverdale. She’d had to pull it into a trailer park to die.
The trailer park now served as home base for their little gang, and the truck’s cab was Kora’s private sleeping quarters. She made the others sleep on blankets in the truck’s bed. When supplies ran low, they’d started on the two-day trek to the factory. The plan had been to stock up on food and be back in her truck’s plush, upholstered seats before Friday.
If they were lucky.
“Don’t worry about them. They’re staying by the shore, anyhow,” Kora whispered. She couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to it than that, though. They weren’t just hovering around at random. They had arranged themselves into a straight line, something she’d never seen before. In fact, it was almost as if—“That river’s the northern boundary of the city, right?”
“Sure is,” Tyrone said. “Looks like the rumors were right. There’s nothing left outside of Haven City.”
“I told you, it’s the apocalypse,” Lex muttered, pushing his backpack further onto his shoulder.
“Nah, that’s not what apocalypse means,” Tyrone said. “Not in the, you know, true sense of the word.”
“Yeah, you look that up online?” Kora asked. Lex laughed, letting out a loud snort. Tyrone punched him and gestured for him to be quiet.
“Nah. Apocalypse is like, end of the world,” Tyrone said. “But the world’s still spinning. The sun still rises, still sets. There’s just nothing else left out there now.”
“What do you suppose they’re waiting for?” Lex asked, pointing towards the Lights.
“It doesn’t matter,” Kora said. While they’d been watching the Lights and arguing about the apocalypse, she’d been studying the factory. “What matters is that there isn’t a single broken window or open door on this side of the building, which means there’s a chance it hasn’t been looted yet. I don’t know about you, but I could use some meat, Lights or no Lights.”
Without waiting for their response, Kora shifted her pack and set off down the hill towards the factory. She stayed along the edge of the trees for as long as she could, and then she broke out into a run across the open parking lot to nearest factory door. She could hear the footsteps of her comrades behind her: Lex’s awkward gait as he tried not to lose his untied shoes, the thudding of Tyrone’s combat boots, and the barely-audible patter of Uri’s bare feet. Together, they pressed their backs against the building, panting for breath.
“Ready?” Kora asked.
“Ready,” they said.
She reached over and tried the doorknob. “Locked.”
Lex gave her a thumbs-up. Locked was definitely a good sign. She shifted to the other side of the door and peered around the corner as Tyrone shuffled forward with his locksmith’s kit in hand. For a moment, it seemed like their plan would actually work, until Uri let out a scream.
Uri was supposed to be watching the rear, but when Kora turned around, all she could see was the brightness of a Light, far too close. Kora threw up her arm over her face. Uri’s screams stopped. She thought he must have already disappeared, but then she heard his voice, soft and wispy, as if from far away.
“It’s okay. Don’t worry.”
“Don’t worry?” Tyrone said, dropping his lockpicks. “There’s no way I’m going to take advice from a kid who just got disappeared!”
He raced back toward the woods with Lex on his heels. Kora tried to follow, but her path was blocked by another Light that had emerged from behind a warehouse. There were more of them now, and they were brighter than any she’d seen before. They emitted a soft hum, like the echo of a harp. It was barely perceptible among the night noises, but something about it made Kora want to draw nearer, to stop and hold still so she could listen better.
“No!” she shouted. She placed her hands over her ears and ran in the opposite direction, towards the bridge that led north out of town. If she could just get there before the Lights …
Maybe Lex was wrong. Maybe they weren’t alone in the world. Maybe there was life there, on the other side of the river, if only she could cross it. With the Lights’ warmth on her back, she had to hope. She pumped her arms and threw off her backpack so that she could run faster.
When she reached the bridge, she didn’t dare look back, but she could tell from the heat that the Lights weren’t far behind, and if the humming was any indication, there were a lot of them. They shone so brightly that she could see her shadow in front of her on the concrete parking lot, the brick sidewalk, and the asphalt road that stretched over the bridge.
Her feet pounded the surface, and in front of her, all was black. She was almost there. She’d almost made it. The bridge was a half-mile long; she’d remembered reading that somewhere, long before The Incident. Her feet pounded out each inch, each foot, each yard.
Then, just as she stepped off the bridge, her first step out of Haven City, everything bursted into white-hot light. She fell backward, covering her eyes.
When Kora opened her eyes, the early morning sun was already up over the sleepy town of Riverdale. Cars drove down the streets and people walked to their places of business, acting as if nothing had happened, as if The Incident had never happened. Kora stood up, her knees shaking, and staggered to the first person she saw: a woman out jogging with a tiny dog. The dog’s legs had to move three times as fast as its owner’s in order to keep up.
“Excuse me,” Kora said. The woman kept jogging right past her. She probably hadn’t heard her over the music in her headphones. Kora spotted someone else, a man with a cap sitting on a bench and reading a newspaper. “Excuse me, sir?”
The man didn’t even look up.
“Sir? Excuse me. I need some help.” When he still didn’t acknowledge her, Kora leaned forward and waved at him over the top of his paper. He turned the page. “Sorry, is everyone here always this rude, or is today a special occasion?”
The man still didn’t respond.
Tired, sore, and completely fed up with being ignored, Kora swung her arm, intending to swat the paper away from the man on the bench. But instead of knocking it to the ground, her hand simply passed through the paper as if it were a holographic image. Or as if she were.
She drew back in surprise, and from there she could see the front page of the newspaper and the headline: “SIX MONTHS LATER, HAVEN CITY STILL TOXIC.” Kora leaned in to read the smaller print:
“Six months after a new weapon of mass destruction was unleashed on Haven City, authorities are still warning residents of nearby areas not to venture into the city itself, or to drink or bathe in the Haven City River. The WMD, known as a K-bomb, was designed to selectively destroy everything within the defined parameters while leaving the outlying areas untouched.
“On the day of the attack, all 2,934,953 residents within Haven City were instantly killed.”
Kora stumbled backward. She understood now, but it was too late. It’d always been too late. They’d never even had a chance. The Lights enveloped her and she disappeared.
Copyright © 2014 Wendy Nikel